‘Girls of Paper and Fire’ Welcomes YA Into 2018 | A Spoiler-Free Review

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★★★★☆

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The Trigger Warning (TW) made me pause. 

The summary drew me in.

I regret nothing.


Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for… and the most cruel.

But this year, there’s a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

GIrls of Paper and Fire

Girls of Paper and Fire didn’t surprise me by being a well-crafted, lovely story with characters that tugged at my heartstrings. 

What surprised me was that a book written by a POC woman with a phenomenally-written LGBT romance and “TW: Violence and sexual abuse” written in the summary still gained such buzz.

I guess, logically, this shouldn’t surprise me. It’s 2018, right? We’re supposed to be at this point. But whenever I talk about sensitivity readers and trigger warnings people still yell “censorship!” and “freedom of speech!” without stopping to think about the fact that TWs and sensitivity readers don’t actually stop things from being published. 

To end this small tangent, however, just let me say… this book is important. 

It isn’t just important because it’s good, or because this story brushed my soul. It’s good because a book like this being championed by a large publishing house means we’re moving in the right direction.


Now: Onto a more in-depth review! This book’s LGBT romance has already been confirmed, so I’m not counting that as a spoiler — though I hadn’t done much research before reading, so it was an (EXTREMELY) pleasant surprise for me!

This book starts out following Lei, a girl who loves her small-town life, though she could do without the trauma of her mother being stolen away from her when soldiers raided her village 10 years ago. Though her life was forever changed by that horrifying reality, she still stayed and helped her father run their herb shop. She had no thoughts about bigger or better things. So, when the soldiers came back for her, she wasn’t particularly excited. Understandably, since they were there to kidnap her and force her into becoming a Paper Girl — a concubine for the King.

Lei’s character development deepens a bit as the story goes on, and I also got much more interested in the other Paper Girls, but I won’t go too in-depth here. The secondary characters are somewhat fleshed out, and the ones that got a bit more page-time were all intriguing. 

The romance was also really beautifully-done. It wasn’t an afterthought, but also wasn’t the point of the whole book. Lei is kind of in the middle of a huge crisis — being stuck in a palace, becoming the property of someone else — when she starts to come to terms with her sexuality. On the other hand, other characters in the book have known about their own preferences for a long time. I love this. I love that characters who discover their own sexuality at different times in their lives have become more ‘normal’ in pop culture. 

Is anyone waiting for me to get to whether the trigger warning was necessary? To whether the scenes that the TW referred to were really *that* graphic?

In order to keep this review spoiler-free, I can’t say a lot, but I can say a little. The scenes that the sexual abuse TW referred to shouldn’t be a huge issue for anyone without pre-existing trauma. Sure, they’re kind of, uh… icky? But they aren’t graphic. Even for those of us with trauma (hello, it’s me, PTSD-from-sexual-trauma-girl), these scenes were fairly short and easy to either skim or skip completely. Ngan reiterates what happens in these scenes after the fact, so if you do have to skip some pages, you won’t be missing much.

As for the violence TW — these scenes are slightly more graphic, as is the nature of most fantasy-violence. There is blood, and there is death, but it’s definitely nowhere near Game of Thrones-level gore. Again, if you have to skim a bit, it’s not a big deal. 

I’ve done a lot of raving about this book, so, for those wondering why I still gave it four stars, I’ll try to give you an idea without giving anything away. Some of the worldbuilding and lore was just a little too borrowed from other YA. Sure, nothing is really original anymore, and this definitely was not plagiarism in any way. It was just little things that rubbed me the wrong way, and these things may not even bother you! But I’ll let you know why anyway, because that’s what a review is for:

The fact that the closer you get to The Capitol — er, I mean the capitol city — the more girls are ‘trained from birth’ to become Paper Girls, a.k.a. concubines who only stick around for one year. Sounds a lot like The Hunger Games, where kids from the districts closest to the Capitol trained from birth to volunteer for The Hunger Games and kids from the farther districts dreaded it because it was literally a game where you get murdered. Also, there’s all of this ‘fire within’ stuff regarding Lei, even a weird prophecy some psychic gives about her having fire inside of her, but nothing really comes of it. At first, it just continually reminded me of ‘the girl on fire’ from The Hunger Games, but then it just seemed like a theme manufactured by the author. I kept expecting something explosive, like maybe Lei’s golden eyes hid a drop of fire-magic or something, but alas, it seems like the ‘fire’ was just about Lei’s hatred for the King and subsequent plot points I can’t discuss.

That’s really it — just little pieces throughout the story that rubbed me the wrong way. If these things don’t bother you, it’s easily a five-star book! Definitely check it out and enjoy!


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